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Legal Research Fundamentals

Litigation Research

When researching litigation, there are many different issues you might be concerned with. How to submit a brief? How to argue a particular matter? What your chances of success are? What do you know about a particular judge or other individual or firm involved in the litigation? 

When researching the construction, submission, and use of material involved in litigation, here is a useful path:

1) Determine all the relevant rules and statutes. Often there are broad, uniform rules, local court rules, and specific judge rules that apply. 

2) Locate guidance. Find a useful secondary source (often a practice title) that address what you are doing, the area of law you are concerned with, and the jurisdiction you are concerned with. 

3) Locate templates. Often the secondary source(s) you find for 2) include sample forms or templates that you can use. Other places that provide forms include: form banks in commercial databases; court websites; CLE materials. 

4) Locate samples/examples. The best place to find examples is usually a docket. However, commercial databases such as Westlaw and Lexis have pulled especially popular items (e.g., briefs) and allow you to search just those. 

Guidance for Federal Litigation Practice and Procedure - Commercial Databases

Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg all have materials designed to help you better understand issues related to trial practice:

Or, you can see if there is a title that addresses your specific needs in one of the commercial databases.

Guidance for Litigation - Freely Available

There are some organizations that draft materials regarding certain types of litigation. You can often locate these materials with crafty Google searches. Pro tip: try using the command filetype:pdf in your search. For example, searching [divorce philadelphia court filetype:pdf] provided us with a number of guidance documents, including this one, prepared by the Women's Law Project and Jenkin's Law Library. 

Federal Court Rules

Both Westlaw and Lexis provide annotated versions of the federal and many of the state rules. Use the annotated versions for guidance, and to locate relevant cases. 

State Court Rules

These can often be located with a good Google search. For example, search Philadelphia municipal court rules allows you to locate a number of rules, forms, and guidance located here: 

You can also often browse Westlaw or Lexis for state court rules. The added perq: they are annotated, and you can quickly link to citing cases, secondary sources, trial documents, etc. 

Guidance for Pennsylvania Litigation - Commercial Databases

Both Westlaw and Lexis have state-specific resources that provide: 

1) Guidance regarding particular matters related to litigation. 

2) Sample forms. 

Dockets and Specific Documents

For some courts, you can locate a court website. There may be dockets freely available. 

CLE and Bar Materials

Continuing Legal Education (CLE) materials can be wonderful sources of litigation guidance, especially for particular jurisdictions. 

You can often locate bar association or CLE materials from their websites (often Googling the issue + CLE or the jurisdiction's bar association is effective, or narrowing to a particular filetype, such as pptx or pdf). However, many times these are behind paywalls.